After the release of the popular documentary, “Super Size Me”, the effects of a diet high in fast food are widely known. These high calorie foods are often loaded with saturated and trans fats and can be high in sodium. Too many of the fats and sugars that make fast foods taste so delicious can quickly affect heart health by increasing blood cholesterol and blood pressure. In addition, consuming too many high calorie foods can lead to an increase in body fat, body weight, and lead to obesity. These are obviously consequences that should be avoided as they lead to poor overall health and can trigger a myriad of other health problems. However, what if you could outweigh the negative effects of a fast food diet with exercise? What if you could not only avoid the negative outcomes, but actually improve your body composition with strategic exercise? This is the dream, right?
In fact, new research at the University of Quebec in Montreal has found that the deleterious effects of a fast food diet can be counteracted by a high intensity interval training (HIIT) workout regimen. They recruited 15 young men from the University to participate in a study where they ate three extra value meals each day for two weeks. In addition to this diet, they were required to perform an HIIT workout where they ran 15 X 60 second sprints on the treadmill, with each sprint followed by a walking interval. All of their daily energy and macronutrient intakes were recorded, as well their daily calorie expenditure from daily activities and their HIIT workouts. In addition, researches took measurements of body composition and blood levels for cholesterol, insulin resistance, blood pressure, and additional indicators of heart health.
Researchers found that after the two week period, the students actually had significant improvements in their body composition. Together, they showed a significant decrease in their body fat percentage and fat mass. They also showed an increase in lean body mass. They neither lost nor gained weight and maintained their body mass index levels. In regards to heart health, the students had lower cholesterol overall and significant improvements for fasting glucose, which is usually synonymous with increased exercise. All other variables measured for heart health remained constant throughout the experiment, indicating the absence of any deleterious effects. These outstanding results may be due to the fact that HIIT workouts often more burn more calories in a shorter amount of time and have greater fat burning effects than traditional workouts. However, these findings are considered preliminary as they targeted young, healthy males as the focus of their experiment and the effects on an older population or those with preexisting conditions is not yet known. Regardless, this seems to suggest that your favorite fast foods are not as harmful as once thought. That is, if you hit the gym for some sprints afterwards!